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Little Known Facts: Michelangelo

Updated on November 10, 2015
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40 years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

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Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, (1475 – 1564)

As I was doing my research for my series about artists who died too young, I found there were many interesting little known facts about other artists who may not have died very young but left an indelible mark on the world through their creative process. One such artist is Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, better known as Michelangelo.

So much is known about him. Who doesn’t know about his famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Or the equally famous back wall of the Sistine Chapel, Judgment Day? Or his famous marble statues of David and the Pieta? He was a wonderful artist, indeed.

detail of David
detail of David | Source

The Secretive Artist

However few people know that he was so secretive that he kept a drape around the scaffold while painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel saying that it was to keep paint splatters from the walls but in truth it was to keep prying eyes away from him while he was painting. Once when he heard the door quietly open and close, he decided to surprise his intruder by throwing boards down from above. Sure that this would teach the spy a lesson, imagine his surprise to find it was the Pope himself whom he had rained upon with board. He actually ran to a nearby town until the papal anger cooled.

“How you do your work is a portrait of yourself.”

— Author Unknown

Believed to be demon-possessed

He also hated to quit working just because the sun went down and hating to carve by lamplight because it proved inadequate. So he devised his own helmet that he could mount a candle upon so he could continue carving on his marble creations long into the night. This was actually a genius invention, getting light close to his work while leaving his hands free. However it also cast some pretty strange shadows on the walls and curtains, leaving the alarmed neighbors thinking that he was demon possessed. He was just anti-social enough that this wasn’t a hard conclusion for the neighbors to jump to. Poor misunderstood artist.

Angel
Angel | Source

How much do you know about Michelangelo?

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Raised in another family circle

Did you know that Michelangelo’s mother died after a long illness when Michelagelo was only 6, leaving him with his father and other siblings? Because his father was not in a position to care for a young child still in need of nursing, before his mother’s death he was placed with a wet-nurse and stone-cutter’s family for several years. The nurse’s husband, the stone-cutter allowed the boy to handle his tools, and so from an early age the sights and sounds of sculpting were instilled. This may be where his early passion came from.

Tondo
Tondo | Source
Coloring page from Classical Renaissance Art Coloring Book by Denise McGill
Coloring page from Classical Renaissance Art Coloring Book by Denise McGill | Source

Never accepted by his father

Did you know that Michelangelo’s father did not approve of his pursuit of art? He was sent to school but had no interest in any subject other than art. Soon his father had to reluctantly let him pursue it. His father, Ludovico de Leonardo Buonarroti Simoni, was the son of a well-to-do small-scale banker who loved fast women and slow horses. For several generations, his family had been bankers, but when the bank failed along with Michelangelo’s grandfather, his father had to take a government position in Caprese, where Michelangelo was born. When Michelangelo’s father inherited the property and bills his father left him, he determined at once to again build up the family fortune. He intended for his sons to go into professions that would continue this trend of building up the legacy and not bringing it down. Art was not considered a profession that would do anything to build the family funds or family name. He was pushing his sons including Michelangelo and his brothers to consider careers in law and business. For the rest of his life Michelangelo tried to win the approval of his father, but with every accomplishment, he received only cool acknowledgement from his father.

I know exactly how that feels. My father did not approve either and with every commission and painting I finished I received only a, “Hmm” or a “that’s nice, Neecie,” from the man whose appreciation I wanted most. I must be in good company if the great and accomplished Michelangelo couldn’t do any better at pleasing his male parental unit.

“A good statue can be rolled down hill without damage.”

— Michelangelo
Moses
Moses | Source

Hot-head artist

Did you know that at the age of seventeen, when Michelangelo was being apprenticed with the sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni, he got into a fight with another pupil, who struck him and broke his nose? This feature of disfigurement is conspicuous in all the portraits of Michelangelo from that time on. It obviously didn’t heal well. It was also obvious that he was somewhat of a hot-head, often getting into brawls and fights.

“It is easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.”

— Michelangelo in explaining how he made his statue of David.
Source
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detail of the Virgin Mary
detail of the Virgin Mary | Source

Only signed one statue in his lifetime

Did you know that Michelangelo was only 24 when he finished the sculpture, the Pieta, which is the depiction of the grieving mother Mary holding the body of Jesus. The piece has been regarded as one of the world’s great masterpieces of sculpture and was so beautiful that when it was opened to the public after it’s creation at St Peter’s Basillica, Michelangelo hid behind a curtain to be able to hear what was being said about it. He expected great applause and praise. Mostly people were amazed that a kid of 24 had created such a masterpiece and felt sure they were all being lied to. It had to have been done by some other “more experienced” master. And certainly it could not have been done by anyone from Florence since that was considered a second-rate place to be from in those days. Enraged, Michelangelo being a hot-headed, passionate artist and a youth as well, waited till the middle of the night, crept in and carved his name in the sash across Mary’s chest. It reads "Michelangelo Buonarroti, the Florentine, made this." If he had been caught by the Swiss Guard, he would have been swiftly beheaded before being questioned.

You have to understand that signing a sculpture was just not done at that time because it was considered haughty and prideful, and certainly the pope wanted to keep artists from sin of pride, so the practice was more or less forbidden. When the inscription was discovered, Michelangelo had to be pardoned by the pope, and most likely had to promise not to sign another work again. We do know that in eighty-nine years, this is the only work that bears his name.

Source

Self-loathing

Did you know that he may have been arrogant but he was also self-loathing? Many artists are. I know that I am often overcome with a wave of guilt over all the things I have handled badly in my life. It shouldn’t be a surprise then, that when painting the Judgment Day on the back wall of the Sistine Chapel, that Michelangelo painted himself into the painting as one of the damned souls, skinned and being beaten by a demon. It is part of who we are as artists to see ourselves that way from time to time. I know I have.

Artist and Poet

Did you know that on top of everything else, Michelangelo was also a poet? He wrote many poems and they can be found, many of them, online free to the searcher. For a young man who did not do well in school, I think he had a fine handle on writing as well as art. He wrote over 300 sonnets and madrigals. Here is just one of such sonnet.

To The Supreme Being

HE prayers I make will then be sweet indeed,

If Thou the spirit give by which I pray:

My unassisted heart is barren clay,

Which of its native self can nothing feed:

Of good and pious works Thou art the seed,

Which quickens only where Thou say'st it may;

Unless Thou show to us Thine own true way,

No man can find it: Father! Thou must lead.

Do Thou, then, breathe those thoughts into my mind

By which such virtue may in me be bred

That in Thy holy footsteps I may tread;

The fetters of my tongue do Thou unbind,

That I may have the power to sing of Thee,

And sound Thy praises everlastingly.

by: Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)

Source

I feel that way too

To me this is such a pure and noble prayer/poem. The master artist acknowledges that all inspiration, voice and thought comes from the Father and only He can make the seed grow the way He wants it to. I often feel this way too. I remember working on a painting late into the night and when I woke the next morning I was amazed by what I had done... as if I had not done it at all but God must have touched it up while I slept. Also I remember reading that Michelangelo felt like a desperate sinner, painting himself into the Judgment Day painting as one of the damned souls. It makes his lines that “the Father lead him and direct his footsteps” even more powerful, that he may sing His praises all his life. Me too, Lord. Me too.

Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Rome
Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Rome | Source
detail of Creation, the finger of God and Adam
detail of Creation, the finger of God and Adam | Source

Chastised for arrogance

Did you know that Michelangelo was so often saying the wrong thing that he angered many of the people who would have been his greatest allies? It is recorded that once seeing Raphael with his many followers and apprentices in the streets of Rome, he said rather loudly that painting was a second-rate art form, good only for old women and nuns. Only Sculpture was an art for true men. This of course, angered the great painter Raphael and his entourage. It was shortly thereafter that the Pope asked Michelangelo to PAINT the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which must have come as quite a blow to the sculptor, especially after making such a rude remark to other painters. However, he later took it as a chastisement from God for his arrogance, and set out to make the ceiling a sea of painted sculptures. And so it is.

“Trifles makes perfection and perfection is no trifle.”

— Michelangelo

Died at age 88

The many accomplishments and achievements of this great artist are so numerous that I would get boring to go on and on. These are just a few of the interesting things I have found about Michelangelo. He died at the age of 88, just three weeks before his 89th birthday, so he lived a long and productive life. The world is a richer place for his presence here.

Artistic Comments Welcomed

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      10 months ago from Fresno CA

      Wow, Bede. Those are interesting details. I had never heard that, but it makes sense that he would want to make his painting last the test of time... even against dust. I also never heard about being exhumed. I should like to find more about that. Thanks for commenting!

    • Bede le Venerable profile image

      Bede 

      10 months ago from Minnesota

      Thanks Denise for this very interesting hub. Here are two more interesting things about Michelangelo: he designed the brick wall for the Last Judgement fresco so that it leans forward slightly from the top to bottom, and thereby have less chance of dust collecting on the finished painting; also, I read that his body was exhumed several times after he had died, even a hundred years after his death, and it had not decayed...he was incorrupt like saint's bodies! However, I cannot remember what book had this info, nor is there anything on the internet about this. Have you heard of this? It seems fitting in a way, since even in his lifetime he was known as the "il divino", the "divine Michelangelo".

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      teaches12345,

      Yes, that poem and hundreds more. He certainly was a versitile and creative man. Thanks so much for checking it out.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      2 years ago

      Well, I know a lot more now after reading your interesting article. In spite of a rocky childhood start, he overcame to become a good person. I didn't know he wrote this poem. Very nice. Thanks for the education!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Anne Harrison,

      Oh that is very descriptive! He was indeed, a Renaissance man! Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 

      2 years ago from Australia

      A fascinating article about a fascinating man. Thank you for sharing - a true Renaissance man.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Jodah,

      Thank you so much. I'm gratified that you liked my little tribute to, as you say, one of mankind's greatest artist, without a doubt. I too was surprised when I first found out he was a poet. I thought of maybe he wrote one or two and they are calling him a poet, but to find so many by him was astounding. I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Denise, this is such a detailed and beautiful hub about one of mankind's greatest artists. As you say you could have gone on and on about his achievements and the fact he lived to 88 allowed for many marvellous works of sculpture and paintings. I did not know he was a poet and the example you gave of one of his sonnets certainly proved his talent there. Thank you for sharing.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Vellur,

      I'm so happy you got something out of it. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      2 years ago from Dubai

      Interesting and informative, enjoyed reading. Never knew that Michelangelo was a poet. Now I know so many things about the other side of the great artist.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Yes, he and Da Vinci both did that, sometimes buying human remains secretly because it was considered "unChristian" to do such a thing. Thanks so much for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Denise

      This was a great piece about one of tge truly great artists of all time. I read that Michaelangelo was so obsessed with getting things right that he used to wirk with doctors to dissect Human remains in order to understand how muscles should look and get the proportions right.

      Lawrence

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      CorneliaMladenova,

      Oh, my, I'm so sorry. I can only think of one thing worse for an artist like yourself to have to study: accounting! Eww, boring. But you obviously make time for your art because I have seen some of your awesome work. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • CorneliaMladenova profile image

      Korneliya Yonkova 

      2 years ago from Cork, Ireland

      Poor Michelangelo. I don't know will this fact will bring more piece to his soul but my faith is worse even than his. My mother absolutely refused to send me to art school and I was made to study jurisprudence. It's a shame :(

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Larry Rankin,

      Thank you, Larry. It's always nice that you stop by to see what I'm up to. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      BeatsMe,

      I'm so very happy you liked the extra useless trivia that my head is full of. Haha. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very interesting overview.

    • BeatsMe profile image

      BeatsMe 

      3 years ago

      Wow. Great hub. I've always heard about Michelangelo but never really considered researching more about him. Thanks for an interesting and informative hub. :)

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      BlossomSB,

      I would absolutely love to see it in real life too. It must be amazing. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Love your stories, and this one is no exception. In real life, for some reason I was most impressed by 'Moses,' the sculpture was so beautifully done - and it is so huge, too.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Nell Rose,

      I'm so happy you enjoyed this. I thought that was pretty cool too. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      3 years ago from England

      This was totally fascinating! I love the story of him sneaking in to sign his own work because they didn't believe it could be 'someone so young' lol! good on him! great read and I learned so much, nell

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      phoenix2327,

      Certainly he thought so. But then again, we artists tend to be an impatient lot. It's a character flaw but we live with it. It didn't seem to harm Michelangelo though, except for getting into that fight that gave him the broken nose... Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      3 years ago from United Kingdom

      He didn't? Wow. I guess his talent needed to be heard sooner rather than later.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Patricia Nicolina,

      I'm so happy you enjoyed reading this. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Carb Diva,

      I'm so glad you enjoyed it. You went to Florence? I would so love to go and see the David in real life. Awesome. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      annart,

      I'm so glad I included things you didn't know before. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      MsDora,

      Thank you, MsDora. I appreciate you reading my work. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Very interesting facts about the personal life of Michelangelo. Great research and excellent presentation.

    • Patricia Nicolina profile image

      Marié Patricia Nicolina Murray 

      3 years ago

      Thank you for posting this! Now I can add a few more tidbits to my array of knowledge about Mikey! A very interesting and well-done read.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      3 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Denise - I loved reading this. So much "I didn't know" and wish I had studied before travelling to Florence. You are a talented artist--and writer as well.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      Great stuff regarding Michelangelo. He certainly had talent; shame his father didn't really recognise it but then artists are often regarded as being 'unreliable' when it comes to being bread-winners. It's something that's in your soul and that you have to do; it can't be ignored.

      Well done. Interesting additions to his general bio, some of which I knew, but some not.

      Ann

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      FlourishAnyway,

      It's so true, I am in good company. And I'm not sure that it hasn't made me a more determined focused artist. It certainly did that for Michelangelo. With each accomplishment he went back to his father to show him, hoping for some signs of approval and when he didn't get it, he tried harder on the next project. So have I. Now that my father has passed away, I'm still trying harder to get approval from him, from his voice in my head. Sounds like I need therapy! Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      phoenix2327,

      It is pretty amazing, isn't it. Especially when you consider the sheer power and muscle that was needed to carve it. He had to have worked day and night with little or no rest. And this from a young man who was so anxious to get started that he didn't even finish his apprenticeship with the sculptor he was apprenticing under. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      3 years ago from USA

      Fascinating facts, especially the early influences. I learned a lot. Sorry your father didn't give you the approval you sought. At least you are in great company.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      3 years ago from United Kingdom

      I didn't know Michlangelo had sculpted La Pieta at such a young age. It's no wonder the viewers assumed it had to have been someone much older. That kind of talent is truly God-given.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Reynold Jay,

      Thank you. I enjoyed writing this one too. When my dad decided to no longer pay for college, I began devouring books at the public library. I read all sorts of art biographies, not to mention books on art technique, etc. So, I have a head full of useless trivia on a lot of artists. What's a girl to do? Pixar is a great job but the truth is there are about 11 artists for every 1 art job. So all you can do is hope you are so good, you beat out the other 10. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      3 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      I like the , " did you know...?" approach to this. Lots of interesting information about his personality. I do remember a Charlton Heston film where he played Michlangelo.

      Yes--many parents and others frown upon art and do not realize it can earn good money. Of course, it is much more that painting. JOBS like retail window decoration, etc. are full time paying jobs that require dedicated artists. Now we have PIXAR films and others that pay hefty wages to talented artists.

      Good new for me was that my mom fully supported me in my art ( and music) endeavors as a child and later as an adult. I made a ton of money in the music business and the art was left behind by choice. Now I work with talented artists every day and ( as you know) love every minute of it. It is as though you wrote this HUB for me!!! Great article!!!!!!

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